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Cops: Limo company operator charged with criminally negligent homicide

"As per DOT's specific directive, this vehicle should not have been operating as a commercial vehicle on the road, period," a DOT spokesman said Wednesday.

Police charged a limousine service operator Wednesday with criminally negligent homicide in a crash that killed 20 people over the weekend in upstate New York.  (Credit: WTEN)

COLONIE – State Police on Wednesday accused the operator of a limousine company of criminally negligent homicide for renting out the vehicle involved a horrific weekend crash that killed 20 friends and devastated an upstate community.

The charge against Nauman Hussain, 28, of the Albany area is based on what State Police say is the decision by the company, Prestige Limousine, to put the 17-year-old limo on the road after it was sidelined for failing a state inspection. The company based in Saratoga County also assigned the driver, Scott T. Lisinicchia of Lake George, to operate the limo even though Lisinicchia didn’t have the proper “P” endorsement on his license to allow him to operate the 20-passenger limo, State Police said. 

“He knew this,” State Police Superintendent George Beach said of Hussain. “The sole responsibility for this vehicle being on the road that Saturday rests with Nauman Hussain.”

State and federal records show the company, since March was forced to put vehicles in its four-limo fleet out of service  for safety violations of brakes, for worn tires, for having a faulty exit system and for failing to fix past violations. The limo in the crash also failed two safety inspections, state officials and sources say.

Hussain’s defense attorney, Lee Kindlon, said all of the problems with the limo involved in the crash were addressed before it went on the road and the state has unfairly turned “some paperwork problems” into a criminal case because the state “wants someone to blame.”

Kindlon said the company asserts the limo had passed inspection and was authorized to be on the road and that a more complete investigation would have shown all records were in order.

“I believe that the State Police have jumped the gun,” Kindlon said in an interview. “I thought that they would at least wait for the investigation to conclude. My client is not guilty.”

Kindlon said his client only took care of some daily duties, answered phone calls and did some marketing while his father Shahed Hussain, ran the business from Pakistan as the operator and owner.

Beach said: “The father remains out of the country at this time, but that will be part of the investigation,” adding, "It is not within my legal authority to ask him to come back.”

Kindlon said Hussain’s father would return to the United States if needed to help defend his son.

State Police wouldn’t say if more arrests are expected.

Beach said Hussain was taken into custody at a traffic stop at an interstate highway in Schoharie, near Albany.  But they wouldn’t divulge the circumstances or where Hussain was coming from or going to.

The crash took place Saturday afternoon  when the limousine ran a stop sign at a T-intersection of two rural highways, ran over two pedestrians, killing them, and rammed into a parked car in a lot. All 18 people in the limo, including the driver, were killed, authorities said.

Nauman Hussain was charged with one count of criminally negligent homicide, an E felony, the lowest-level felony, which can carry a prison sentence of up to 4 years. Beach, however, said additional counts of the felony could be added for each death.

 "Criminal negligence" is defined under the law as failing to "perceive a substantial risk" that could cause death and recklessly acting in a way that is a "gross deviation" from the care that a "reasonable person" would take in that situation.

In a statement issued Wednesday morning before the arrest was announced, state Department of Transportation spokesman Joseph Morrissey said the DOT "issued multiple violations on this vehicle and barred it from being used as a commercial passenger transport vehicle."

“The use of this vehicle as such is a blatant breach of the law," Morrissey said. "As per DOT's specific directive, this vehicle should not have been operating as a commercial vehicle on the road, period.”

An investigation by State Police and the National Transportation Safety Board continues into the cause of the crash. They are also looking at residents’ longtime concern that the crash site is a dangerous T-intersection created by the state in the 50 mph zone years ago to try to make the curve safer.

“The road was a problem,” Kindlon said. State officials “are doing a great job of saying, ‘It’s not our fault.’”

The state Department of Transportation denies that.

“This location was fully reconstructed about a decade ago and there have been only four reported accidents since reconstruction,” Morrissey said. “In addition, we have imposed restrictions on trucks since 2013 and fully prohibited trucks in 2015.”

With Yancey Roy

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